The Lost Art of “Cut Shells”

C. Davis
By C. Davis April 13, 2015 11:48

The Lost Art of “Cut Shells”

This is a nice trick to know when SHTF (low ammunition) or in an “I really need a slug right now, but I don’t have one” situation.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Cut shells used to be legal ammo for deer in most states, and during the last great depression, it was the only ammo available to many deer hunters. It worked well with paper hulls back then, but even better with modern plastic hulls, using factory made rounds. Reloads may not have enough crimp grip to hold the slug together. (Source)

They are a low cost work around and should only be used in times of need.

Cut shells would not work in either a pump or a semi-auto shotgun (unless you load and shoot one at a time – I’ll explain in a bit why).

But in a break-action double or single, they do allow you to have slug power with cheapo bird shot. And it shows that our ancestors, who depended on their one shotgun for food and protection, were able to adapt and overcome, even with limited resources- they did not have slug ammo shells (Source)

Warning: In some rare cases, part of the plastic shot shell hull gets left behind in the barrel of the shotgun after firing. With a break-open gun, you can actually look down the barrels very easily from the chamber end to verify before the next shot that the barrel is actually clear of obstructions. If a cut shell cycled in a pump or semi, and you didn’t check the barrel, you can easily blow up the gun with the next shot. So… for “almost safe” use … try it with a break-open gun only, check the barrel after every shoot and use it only when in real need.

This guy is making his cut above the wad cup and below the wad petals, right in the “shock absorber” section of the wad.

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C. Davis
By C. Davis April 13, 2015 11:48
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  1. Dwayne Allen April 14, 12:27

    So if a person could potentially kill themselves doing this then why in the hell are you relaying this information to dumb people.. Begging for trouble here..

    Reply to this comment
    • Illini Warrior April 14, 14:47

      Ditto guy …. everytime this BS gets posted I ask the same thing …

      It violates the prime directive of prepping – being properly prepared …. a cut shell is a last ditch desperation move – and a good prepper never gets to that point – there’s always a decent backup and alternative ….

      Reply to this comment
      • Squirrelgun Smith September 13, 20:05

        So, I guess I am not wrong for having two types of slug ammo (copper solid sabot and “pumpkin ball”) in the powder magazine. Cutting shells is what I did when I was a kid building rocket engines with the propellant. Doesn’t work any way but even trying it out we were 50 feet away, the length of cable on an Estes remote launch pad. We did make some really neat exploding rockets with Estes Scout kits, acquired shotgun primers and black powder. Point is if you gonna be stupid you gotta be tough and you need to be one percent smarter than what you are working with. My brother in law is a Class A idiot and I have never told him about the engineering I did when I was a young fellow. You never can tell what he is going to think is a good idea.

        Reply to this comment
    • C. Davis Author April 14, 15:48

      Dwayne Allen – I understand your point! I thought about it before posting the article.

      I decided to post it with a clear Warning (with instructions what NOT to do to keep it relatively safe). People did this for decades and it should be “pretty” safe. I shot some cut shells myself with my uncle and he’s been doing this for a looooooong time. Never had a problem.

      But of course there are always some risks involved.

      There are a lot of things that can get you killed. That doesn’t mean we don’t do them.

      Anyway… I’m thinking of this info more like “a good thing to know” than “I must try this right now”

      Reply to this comment
      • wa2qcj December 31, 19:36

        What better way to ease the strain on the gene pool than to weed out that which slows the races down. Just think of the possibilities for radical islam if there were more accident prone “soldiers” who set off devices prematurely. Like the guy that grabbed a phone they were going to use, and quickly ended their proposed missions. Yes, making black powder is hazardous. That is where safety, and NOT assuming needs to be the rule. Even reloading with smokeless powder has it’s issues. Those without a clue, or that take chances are generally the ones that get hurt.

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    • Juls July 18, 20:08

      Dwayne, Common sense is NOT common. Snopes was just busted out for being unethically attached. It makes me wonder who becomes liable when I receive F/B posts from so called Prepping sites, that post definitely bad sources of information.
      Age and experience have no peer. When it comes to guns, if you do not have a “badged” background, then it is smarter to hook up for hands on experience with someone in the know than to just follow this trash.
      You are so right.
      JULIANNE in GA

      Reply to this comment
    • Brother Sparks March 29, 00:51

      Dwayne, all of this information is available online and in the public library. If dumb people wish to remove themselves from the gene pool, I have no problem with that.

      Reply to this comment
  2. HALF FULL GLASSMAN April 14, 15:16


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    • RC October 27, 17:46

      I agree. Relax guys. Geeeze

      Reply to this comment
      • RC October 27, 17:50

        I’d dang sure do it if I absolutely had to and got into a situation where I was forced to do it to feed my family. Just because one preps doesn’t always mean you’re going to be left with everything you stored for when SHTF! Even the best prepper in the world I’ll promise is not going to be immune from a catastrophic event. S**t happens.

        Reply to this comment
    • wa2qcj December 31, 19:36


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  3. Runningbear May 19, 20:30

    A better method is to completely encase the buckshot in wax. These rounds have a devastating punch as demonstrated by Taofledermaus on youtube. The other nice thing is these shells are reloadable.

    Reply to this comment
    • Mandrake April 22, 03:59

      Hey “ Runningbear”, are you from Talpa (hint)?
      If so, touch base with me!

      Reply to this comment
    • John Drake March 31, 21:11

      My grandfather did this with beeswax and BBs…the only shot he ever used. He’d buy the cartons of Crossman telling me it was cheaper than ‘regular’ copper shot from reloaders.

      He reloaded brass shells with blackpowder he got in trade for hickory stumps with the Hercules people.


      Reply to this comment
  4. left coast chuck July 5, 15:58

    There are lots of things that used to be common practice 100 years ago that are now oohh, oohhh, oohhhh that’s dangerous. Life is full of danger and 100 years ago people knew that and were careful. Unfortunately, we have raised several generations of totally clueless doofs. Look at the videos of people so engrossed in their phones while walking that they walk into objects that 100 years ago no one would have walked into because people watched where they walked. You had to because walkways were full of booby traps (notice the name “booby”, named after a bird that was totally unafraid of humans but was good to eat. Rapidly became extinct). People have lost all sight of reality. Good example: big hoohaw about the life guards on our local beach dragging a long-dead dolphin behind their truck on the sand over to wherever they disposed of it. “Oh, the inhumanity of it! No respect for the poor dolphin” Come on, folks, do you know how bad a week old fish that has been floating in the surf smells? It would take a month to get the stink out of the truck which, by the way, is used to haul folks who need to get to an ambulance from the surf line to the parking lot where the ambulance is parked.

    Disrespect for a dead fish?

    So yeah, it poses some danger to cut shotgun shells. That’s why Mr. Davis posted his warning about only using this practice with break action shotguns. 100 years ago a break open shotgun was a lot more common than pumps or semi-autos. Every farm home had a 12 ga. break open fully loaded behind the back door in case of — whatever. The kids knew it was there. Everyone in the house knew it was there. It was always loaded. If there is a fox in the hen house, or a coyote in the pig pen Farmer Brown didn’t want to waste any time getting out to shoot the varmint. He didn’t want to have to go searching for shells while the fox was slaughtering hens.Do that nowadays and CPS will have you in irons doing the perp walk in front of the local courthouse. It’s dangerous for children. One of the chores little kids had was lighting the lanterns when dusk fell — ohhh ohh ohh so dangerous. Playing with fire. Where’s CPS?

    Be aware of the danger. Acknowledge it. Work around it. After all, guns are dangerous. They kill people you know. After all, isn’t that what all the present hoopla is about, guns killing people?

    Reply to this comment
    • Nene22 May 13, 11:57

      When I grew up (during the 1940s) my grandmother always kept a LOADED shotgun behind the kitchen door. If she saw a red squirrel, she always took that gun and shot him since she said they would get into the house (like rats). We kids knew it was there and never played with it. We had a “burning barrel when my daughter was growing up. Her job was to burn papers and she never “played” with matches since they weren’t a novelty. My grandson, when we camped, always had the responsibility of starting the campfire (as soon as he could safely light a match). He never played with fire since we taught him the responsible way to use fire. Familys around here take their children hunting as soon as it is legal. They don’t have problems with children playing with real guns since they have play ones to play with when they are kids. Anything forbidden is always an attraction to a kid. You might better teach them HOW to use things safely and then it isn’t such an attraction.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Partsman November 13, 04:28

    People kill people with guns, cars, airplanes, rocks, knives, baseball bats, tire irons, bow & arrow, chains, steel toe boots, and bare hands …. etc. Am sure someone could add a few more ways to the list; but stupidity likely should be included although it is more of a suicide scenario when you add it to the mix.

    Reply to this comment
  6. REOALEXKING May 11, 21:47

    Just what the hell IS a “cut shell”? Everyone here talks about the use of such shells, but nowhere do I find an explanation of the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of it all.

    Reply to this comment
    • kev October 12, 02:10

      The article said nothing as to why you would do it, what you did when you did do it and what the results of doing were. Still don’t know why you would cut a shotgun shell.

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck April 20, 00:00

      REOALEXKING: Well, the theory is that a cut shell will be held together by the plastic or paper hull until it reaches the target, thus not spreading as the shot column normally would. I just watched a u-tube demonstration wherein the demonstrator fired a cut 12 ga. shell into ballistic gel. He also fired an uncut shell with the same size shot into ballistic gel.

      In both cases the shot column started to spread as soon as it entered the gel. I would point out that he fired both shots from almost a point blank range.

      It was his opinion that because the shot column “only” penetrated 4.5 to 5 inches, that it wasn’t much use as a self defense load. That is true as stated, however what is unstated is that the diameter of the hole blown in the gel was about 3 inches and the diameter expanded as it penetrated further into the gel.

      Now a 3 inch wide hole 4.5 inches deep may not be instantaneously fatal, but even the biggest, baddest biker zombie is sure going to be moving slower with that size hole in his gut.

      As a practical example. I know the details of a case where the shootee was shot with birdshot at arm’s length distance by a 20 gauge shotgun. He tried to grab the shotgun away from the shooter. What the shootee didn’t realize was that the shooter had his finger on the trigger and the single shot shotgun was cocked. When he grabbed the muzzle, he pulled the trigger against the finger of the shooter.

      The corner testified at trial if the shootee had fallen on an e.r. operating table with a team gowned, gloved and ready to operate, they couldn’t have saved the shootee. The internal damage was too massive. I don’t know if the shootee was dead when he hit the ground but by the time the medics arrived he had been dead for a while.

      I think, and this is just an opinion, that where the cut shell is useful is at greater than point bank distances. Federal is making law enforcement buckshot load with a different cup that holds the shot together longer. I watched a demonstration of that against a normal 00 buckshot load and it did hold together at 50 yards better than regular buck. I think the cut shell acts that way. It holds the shot column together longer than if you fire an uncut bird shot shell. It doesn’t penetrate like a slug, but it holds the shot column together so that when it strikes the target the mass of shot is more damaging than getting peppered with birdshot in a normal spread pattern.

      If you watch the video you will see the HOW.

      As to the WHY? All you have is birdshot. There are bad guys at 25 yards. At 25 yards, birdshot, #6, #7.5, #8 or #9 will be spread so widely that pellets will have lost velocity and won’t penetrate deeply enough to even inflict a wound more than an inch or two deep. Could still be fatal eventually. If you remember the unfortunate incident where Dick Cheney peppered a shooting partner with birdshot, the victim was only minoriy wounded but a pellet entered his blood stream unknown to the doctors who treated him and he died a few days later.

      OTOH, if the shot column arrives at the bad guy still bunched together, it will create a massive wound that may not be instantly fatal as would a wound from a shotgun slug, but it surely will leave the bad guy feeling poorly. That is the WHY of your query. The WHAT AND HOW are covered in the article and the video.

      KEV: See this reply to answer your questions.

      While many posters point out that slugs and 00 buck are readily available and relatively inexpensive, so there is no need to cut shells, In an EOTW situation, you may not have access to slugs or 00 buck. You may have used up the 250 such shells that you expected would last you at least ten years. Yet you need to put down some really bad guys who are some distance away. Hence, it pays to know a technique that may, hopefully not, someday save you’re bacon.

      I don’t need to chop wood. I have a perfectly good natural gas furnace that heats my home very satisfactorily. In an end of the world situation, it may very well be that I will need to chop a lot of wood. It helps to know the best way to do that and how to do it safely. I hope I never NEED that information just like I hope I never NEED to know how to make cut shotgun shells. But it is nice to have that info just in case the need arises. And I do have a single shot shotgun in both 12 ga and 20 ga just in case.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck April 20, 00:06

        Thank you, Predictive. That should be YOUR BACON possessive, not the contraction form of YOU ARE BACON. It may be that you become bacon if you can’t put down the bad guys but that was not the intent of my comment.

        Reply to this comment
  7. Ransom September 13, 15:45

    Every time I see this article I cringe…..
    Shotguns chambers are sized for the hull (.800 in approx), shotgun barrels are sized for the wad/shot/slug (.725 in). Cutting the hull forces the hull to be compressed to the barrel diameter with MASSIVE pressure increases.
    While it is not a direct comparison this is similar to shoving a 12 ga (.725) load through a 16 ga (.660) barrel. This is nothing but a deliberate submission to the Darwin Awards.

    With only a little over 50 years of shooting and more than 40 years of reloading/gunsmithing/dealer I may be considered a newbie by some but……This is one of those things that needs to pass away into the dustbin of history.

    Reply to this comment
    • Ransom September 15, 02:49

      I will clarify, by ‘this article’ I mean this suggestion/technique regardless of the author.
      Following up….. while the author gives a perfunctory DON’T TRY THIS WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION disclaimer about injury/death everyone that perpetuates this highly dangerous practice is doing great dis-service to the entire community.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Wild Bill May 26, 04:11

    The cut shell was editorialized in an article in “Field and Stream” magazine in about 1948 sometime.The article was about a man bird hunting and stumbled into a grizzly’s territory. The hunter escaped up a small tree but the bear was determined to get the hunter by pushing the tree to break it The hunter cut the shell while in the tree and shot the bear in the head killing it The 12 ga shot penetrated the bear’s head tearing the crown nearly off. I’m nearly 80years old now and still hunt and fish. I wish you whiners would grow up and be more resourceful!! Your life might depend on it.

    Reply to this comment
  9. red June 12, 23:00

    Oh, yeah, Dad and my uncles did this all the time because they couldn’t afford shells. Good article, Claude! niio

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck November 27, 21:57

      Red: This was the panacea for the poor — perhaps destitute individual who could not afford a different size box of shells for each type of game he might have to shoot to feed his family. Bird shot for birds, larger shot for bigger birds, pheasants, turkeys, large raccoons, possum, fox, coyotes, wolves. Buckshot or slugs for bears, deer, possible dangerous varmints like badger and wolverine — can’t think of all the critters that inhabit the U.S. that might either be food or be predators for your barnyard animals or you if cornered where neither of you would escape without injury.

      Desperate times call for desperate measures. If it is the end of the world and you are out of slugs and buckshot but your family is in danger of death or enslavement, those desperate times just might be upon you and knowing how to cut shot shells just might be what saves your bacon.

      Just my opinion, but I believe the best all around shot is either #6 or #4, either #4 bird or #4 buck. The biggest problem that I see with #4 buck is that even in 12 ga. there just aren’t that many pellets.

      I would also recommend a single shot, break open 12 ga. shotgun with a modified barrel or a Polychoke installed as the shotgun to grow old with in an EOTW situation. The Polychoke will cost as much as the shotgun but it will allow you to have a multiple-choke choice so that if you leave the house with birdshot but need to reach out further or need a closely packed shot column, you will have that choice already attached to the end of the gun and installed with a twist of the choke device.

      Reply to this comment
  10. Grey January 28, 02:14

    After researching and experimenting with the Cut Shell idea last year, I settled on Hot Glue Shells – over Wax, FlexSeal, Epoxy/Glued or Cut Shells.

    Less danger, less mess, and more punch. Simpler to make too.

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